One of the most impactful biographies I’ve read in recent years, was Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand, the story of Olympic runner, World War II gunner and Prisoner of War, Louie Zamperini.
Last night, Linda and I saw the widely heralded Angelina Jolie film, Unbroken, based on the book. It’s not an easy film to watch. While watching brutality suffered by Zamperini in the Japanese prisoner of war camps, I had flashes of memory back to the viewing of the 2004 film, The Passion of the Christ. I strongly recommend the film, but probably not for younger viewers.
Unbroken reflects the best in integrity, courage, toughness, loyalty and I’m sure many other admirable traits. I commend Jolie for making the film.
But as good and powerful as the film is, it is misnamed and omits the main story.* I was not in the least surprised by this omission, but I do urge you to read Hillenbrand’s book for the details.
In one sense, Unbroken is a fit title for the story and the movie. Zamperini did not “break” under the horrific treatment designed to use him against his own country. Yet, while he did not give in to his captors, he was broken, horribly broken. Coming home a hero, he was damaged seemingly beyond repair. What used to be called “combat fatigue” or “shell shock,” is now known as Post-traumatic Stress Disorder, and it is devastating for many. Zamperini was not an exception, filled with anxiety, and depression, he experienced nightly replays in his dreams or war time horrors. Angry and vengeful, Louie turned to alcohol, destroyed his marriage and his own hopes for life. The first four years after returning home were beyond miserable. He was still in a prison of hatred and revenge in his mind. He could not escape it.
Alfred Hitchcock is reported to have said something to the effect that “movies are real life with the boring parts cut out.” (John Drescher, www.newsobserver.com) There is probably a lot to that. But what may look boring on the outside, too boring for a dramatic movie, was what saved Louie Zamperini. Louie’s wife, Cynthia, was pursuing divorce when Billy Graham came to California in1949 for the tent meetings that moved Graham to sudden national prominence. Cynthia attended the meetings, heard the Gospel, received Christ, and was transformed. Dropping the divorce plans, she invited the resistant Louie to the meetings. Finally going once, then twice, Louie received Christ and was instantly changed. No more alcohol, no more flashback dreams of the prisoner of war camp. His vengeance was traded for forgiveness. Louie Zamperini was truly born again.
When the B-24 crashed into the Pacific, as Louie and his buddies drifted for 47 days toward the Marshall Islands where they were captured by Japanese, Louie was officially dead. His family received condolences from the president. Reality was that the war experience proved to Louie that he was dead, until he came to know Christ and His forgiveness that night in 1949. The new life God gave to Louis lasted for almost 65 years on earth until he died of pneumonia last summer at age 97. He was supposed to serve as the Grand Marshall for the 2015 Tournament of Roses Parade this Thursday, but God called him home last July.
Check out the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association 28 minutes video, Captured by Grace. For further perspective, I commend Marshall Segal’s Unbroken Uncut. Also, see the movie and read the book. And don’t underestimate the power of the Gospel to change broken lives.